When there’s a line at the post office, you wait your turn. If you bump someone with your grocery cart, you apologize. And when other people are talking, you let them finish speaking before you respond.
Most of us do these things because we understand the “unwritten” social rules that guide how we interact with each other. Kids with learning and attention issues, however, often have trouble learning and following basic social rules. Your child may not notice or understand these rules. Or he may lack the self-control needed to follow them.
Helping your child understand social expectations is a good first step toward helping him meet them. Here are five key social rules that can be challenging for kids with learning and attention issues:
Social Rule #1: Meet and greet politely.
- Say greetings, introductions and goodbyes.
- Politely offer and receive compliments.
- Be able to start and finish conversations.
Social Rule #2: Take turns talking.
- Listen when others are speaking and look them in the eye.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Respond appropriately and at the right time.
Social Rule #3: Pay attention to others.
- Stop what you’re doing so you can listen.
- Read people’s emotions through their body language and facial expressions.
- Change your behavior to match what other people are doing, such as quieting down with the rest of the room.
Social Rule #4: Think about others before acting.
- Don’t touch without asking.
- Don’t cut in line.
- Wait your turn.
- Stand a comfortable distance away when talking.
Social Rule #5: Cooperate with others.
- Follow directions when you’re asked to.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Apologize when necessary.
- Be flexible and open to new ideas.
What Happens When Kids Don’t Follow Social Rules
When kids don’t follow social rules, others may think they’re self-centered or uncaring. Other kids may find their behavior annoying and back away. Your child may find himself being left out. Kids with poor social skills may be bullied by other children or viewed by adults as being disrespectful or rude.
Learning and attention issues can affect your child’s social life in different ways. For example, ADHD may cause kids to speak and act impulsively. Nonverbal learning disabilities can affect the ability to read people’s moods and reactions. Language disorders can make conversation difficult.
Parents and teachers can help children with these issues by talking about social skills and practicing them together.
How You Can Help Your Child
You can start by breaking down social rules in ways your child can understand and practice. Role-playing games can be a good way to model appropriate behavior and help him practice responding to different social situations. You can also use your child’s favorite TV shows to focus on reading body language and other social cues.
“Helping your child understand social expectations is a good first step toward helping him meet them.”
Parenting Coach has strategies for helping your child work on interacting, fitting in and other everyday challenges. Be sure to praise him for successful social interactions, too. Giving your child positive—and very specific—feedback can reinforce the behaviors you want him to repeat.
If your child’s social difficulties persist, you may want to consider having him join a social skills group at school or in the community. With practice and support, your child can learn to connect with others successfully.